A yellow moon had risen over the hills. Somewhere the coyotes were singing their mournful song. I was sitting before an open fire with an old Indian woman, her face creased like that of an apple doll. Her cheekbones were high; her braids fell well below her shoulders.
"Your life is a path," she said to me, her thick accent at first difficult to understand. "Knowingly or unknowingly you have been on a vision quest. It is good to have a vision, a dream." There was something compelling about her. Her personality seemed to change from moment to moment. Although she had difficulty expressing the simplest thoughts in English, she was as erudite as anyone I have ever known, and she had great dignity.
"Woman is the ultimate," she said. "Mother Earth belongs to woman, not man. She carries the void." These were her words to me before I became her apprentice. She is a heyoka medicine woman from the far North, a shaman woman, and I was destined to follow in her path.
Inheritors of Ancient Knowledge
The term "shaman" comes from the Tungusic language of Siberia and is used to denote those who know how to use energy to heal, who know how to divine the unseen energies of the universe toward a higher purpose in life. Over the past century, "shaman" has become widely used to describe medicine people from native cultures across the globe, the inheritors of an ancient knowledge of how energy moves in the universe and how to use that energy to heal their world.
From my first encounter with this elegant, beautiful woman with the apple doll face, I was blessed with the great honor of becoming her apprentice and, through her, to become apprentice to, and now a member of, a group of 44 shaman women, many of them elders, from three different continents and twice as many countries.
I am told that before he died, Carl Jung turned to his followers and said, "I no longer believe. I know." These are women who know, and in their knowing I have found a greater clarity in life than I had ever believed possible, a certainty grounded in bedrock, born of the ancient knowledge and wisdom carried by my teachers that has stood the test of time and remains as vibrant and true in our modern world as it was long, long ago. They are shaman women from different native cultures, yet they do not follow the traditional ways. Theirs is a spirituality and a wisdom that is founded upon the "firstness" of women, tools for healing and enlightened living which grow out of the very rhythms of life itself, as they have been practiced and handed down from mother to daughter, shaman to apprentice for many thousands of years.
When I wrote Medicine Woman, my first book of our work together, I had no thought of being published. I wrote it as a gift to my teachers. They asked me to publish it, which I did. And then they asked me to write many other books on the work we have done together, because they felt that we are living at a time of greater chaos and uncertainty than ever before in human history and they believed it was time for people to see and hear the teachings which they carry. Almost without my realizing it, because I was immersed in the worlds of my teachers, my books became popular all over the world, and I began traveling and lecturing internationally. There were even people who moved to the Los Angeles area so they could work with me.
It became very clear to me that so many more people wanted these teachings than I could possibly accommodate in the way I had been doing it. So I sat in council with my teachers and we decided that I should start a school, the Lynn Andrews Center for Sacred Arts and Training.
Access the Sacred Mysteries
We call it the "Mystery School" because it draws from and teaches people how to access the sacred mysteries of the universe to heal their lives and find harmony, bliss and self-empowerment amid the chaos and confusion of today’s world. This is the world of the shaman, one who knows how to choreograph the power and beauty of the natural world toward a better way of living.
It is a four-year "school without walls," with a written curriculum and mentors who have already gone through the training. Students are placed into study groups, and throughout the year they work with their mentors and with one another through the marvels of telephone and internet. There are two live trainings each year where we all come together in circle, roll up our sleeves and really go to work, enabling all of my students to work directly with me.
I created a "school without walls" for two reasons: First, so that anyone, anywhere in the world, could do this work without having to uproot and move to a campus, which would exclude so many. Secondly, I wanted to create a learning environment where people could learn to create the shaman within themselves by finding the truth of their own experience…and not try to be their teacher. Oftentimes when you go to a school, you revere the teachers and you want to be like them. And then you give your power away.
Experiential learning is, I think, the way true learning and healing occur, when you learn from your own life’s experiences. One of my students, a public health nurse and graduate school professor, talks about how the Mystery School helped her to handle her mother’s dying and death with dignity, knowing how to help both her mother and herself. Another talks about how, after years of abused child therapy from a truly horrific childhood, the sacred art that we create finally helped her to move all of the pieces into place, actually healing the wounds of child abuse that she had been able, heretofore, to understand but not to reconcile.
You can’t teach someone about his or her life or self by standing at a podium and lecturing. You teach them by holding up mirrors into which they can look to discover their own personal truths. So I created my curriculum in a way that would show students how to look at the experiences of their own lives – whatever those circumstances are, good and bad, alike, the painful as well as the glorious – against the backdrop of sacredness, beauty, art, music and literature, the aspects of life that we so desperately need in order to understand our own truth and beauty, and our history in this world. In my Mystery School, we start out first, last and always with the concept of your own beauty within.
Grow beyond my Deepest Fears
This way of experiential learning was also the way I worked with my teachers. From the very beginning, I would go and be with them for short periods of time. They would put me into extreme situations – some terrifying – where I was forced to confront and grow beyond my deepest fears and the darkest side of my nature, or perish, for this is when we are most fully alive and willing to learn, when our very lives depend upon our ability to go beyond our self-imposed limitations and find the strength and the truth that we each carry in our own shaman center, if only we knew how to access it. They would help me to look into the mirrors these experiences created to discover my shortcomings and vulnerabilities as well as my own innate strengths.
They would instruct me on various teachings, visualizations, acts of creativity and ceremonies that people had used for many millenniums, before the onslaught of our "modern" world threatened to wipe them out, to overcome the shortcomings in the physical world that humans have always had and live in this world from a place of knowing, strength, harmony and oneness with Great Spirit and all of life. Then they would quite literally "kick me out," throw me back onto my own resources by sending me home where I would study and reflect on the work we had done together until it become part of my healing, my consciousness, my higher awareness of life…or go my own separate way, which is inconceivable to me.
After completing these four years of study, my students are certified as spiritual healers, eligible to be ordained as ministers licensed to practice in most states and countries. Many of them incorporate what they have learned into their professional lives as healers. The coordinator of my Mystery School is herself a medical doctor who says, "These teachings transformed my life through self-healing, self-discovery and self-empowerment as I found my personal connection to God, reclaimed my spiritual heritage and discovered the ‘magical’ in life. In turn, I became a better physician because the shamanic perspective enables me to communicate with people in a holistic and healing way."
Others use what they have learned to forge new paths for themselves that are in alignment with their own spirituality and personal truth. One of my fire marshals during the Sacred Fire Ceremony at my annual Spring gathering loves to tell people, "I entered Lynn’s School as an environmental consultant to corporations and government agencies, who was exploring a spiritual life. Little did I know the transformation that was about to take place as I received and incorporated the sacred teachings into my life. Today, I am a career coach, helping my clients create a fulfilling life. I write a weekly newspaper column, blog and e-zine, give workshops and have written a book on leadership. Need I say more?"
Graduates are also eligible to pursue a B.A., Master’s or Ph.D. degree in a related field through the University of Natural Medicine in Santa Fe, NM. And, because so many people didn’t really want to leave the school after these four years, we created a graduate school of kindred spirits, an extraordinary circle of graduates who have chosen to remain part of a circle of friendship and kinship that they have never encountered anywhere else in their lives.
I, as a teacher, as a visionary, want to drag you into the poet’s world, the world of shamanism, the world of heightened awareness. I want you to feel deeply and forget about living on automatic pilot. I want you to hear the wild cries within your soul, to look for the magic of wilderness places and share your dreams like coyotes at sunset. I want to empower you to lead your life with care and integrity, without hiding the very special person you are.
Agnes Whistling Elk said to me many years ago, "Everything comes from nothing. Our universe is magnificent in its manifestations of power, but when you go to the center, when you go to the beginning of things, you move, not out into the world for your instruction, but to the interior world, the universe that lives within. It is from the essence of that universe that all life is born." This is the magnificent world of the shaman, the universe within, and I want to empower you to live your one life as One Who Knows How.